Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dura-Ace 9000 vs Ultegra 6800: Crankset

Looking to get a brand new crankset for your road bike? Can't decide if you should go for the top of the range Dura-Ace, or the second grade Ultegra? In this post, I will compare these two cranksets in detail, and you can decide for yourself whether the differences are worth saving up for.

I recently upgraded the crankset on the Merida Scultura 5000 road bike from Ultegra 6800 to Dura-Ace 9000, and I took the chance to compare these two cranksets. Here are the details!

Ultegra 6800 50/34T Compact Crankset, 170mm length

Dura-Ace 9000 50/34T Compact Crankset, 170mm length

11 speed chainring on the Ultegra crankset, 50/34T

Same chainring size on the Dura-Ace crankset, with a unique two-tone anodising surface treatment

Chain pick up pins and ramps can be found on the composite shell bonded to the back of the Ultegra Hollowglide chainring

Cleaner looking pick up ramps and pins on the Dura-Ace chainring. The design looks deceptively simple but it shifts really well. There is a lot of know-how regarding the placement, shape, angle and height of the pins, and also the individual teeth shape.

Ultegra 34T inner chainring, with the specs stamped onto the aluminium chainring

Laser marked 34T indication on the Dura-Ace inner chainring, with a grooved cutout to save weight

The Ultegra crank arm is 170mm in length

Same 170mm length for the Dura-Ace crank arm

Slightly different crank arm shape, with rounded edges on the Ultegra crank arm, while the Dura-Ace crank arm looks slightly wider and edgier. The glossy finish on the Dura-Ace crank arm is also more prone to fingerprint or grease marks.

Rounded edges on the Ultegra crank arm, while the Dura-Ace crank arm has sharper edges.

Here is where the difference is more obvious. The rear of the Ultegra crank arm is an open hollow shell, with the 4-arm rear layer glued to the front piece with epoxy, as can be seen here.

The Dura-Ace crank arm looks more well refined, with a closed hollow crankarm, cleanly bonded without any excess epoxy visible.

After comparing the appearance of the crankset, we can move on to compare the weight of the cranksets. With the same chainring sizes and also the same crank arm lengths, it will give an accurate weight comparison.

Left Ultegra 6800 170mm crank arm with crank arm fixing bolt, 197 grams.

Left Dura-Ace 9000 170mm crank arm with crank arm fixing bolt, 176 grams. About 20 grams lighter.

Right Ultegra 6800 170mm crank arm with 50/34T chainrings, 480 grams

Right Dura-Ace 9000 170mm crank arm with 50/34T chainrings, 440 grams. 40 grams lighter.

Weight of Ultegra 6800 50/34T crankset is 677 grams. A very good weight for an aluminum 2x11 speed crankset.

Dura-Ace 9000 50/34T crankset is only 615 grams, pushing the limits on aluminium cold forging technology!

View of the rear of the cranksets, showing the differences in the crank arms and the chainrings

Overall view of the Ultegra 6800 and Dura-Ace 9000 cranksets side by side

After using both of these cranksets for a few months each, my conclusion is that there is no difference in performance. Both of them shift very well, and are also very stiff for optimal power transfer. The only factor affecting your choice should be the price (Ultegra is half the price of Dura-Ace), the weight (Dura-Ace is 60 grams lighter), or the appearance (personal preference).

The value choice would be Ultegra, as it is more affordable, and the dark grey appearance matches most bike frames. The extra 60 grams of weight is probably not significant at all. If I were to choose, the Ultegra crankset is my choice. Of course, if your budget allows, go ahead and get the Dura-Ace crankset if that is your preference!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dura-Ace 9000 vs Ultegra 6800: Rear Derailleur and Front Derailleur

During the upgrading of the components on the Merida Scultura 5000 from Ultegra 6800 to Dura-Ace 9000, I found that it was the perfect chance to compare the components from these two groupsets. After removing the Ultegra components from the bike, and before installing the Dura-Ace components, I could compare each of the components in detail.

Starting with the Rear Derailleur and the Front Derailleur in this blog post, I will mainly be highlighting the physical differences found between Ultegra 6800 and Dura-Ace 9000. This should give a good idea on whether it is worth paying the price difference to upgrade from Ultegra to Dura-Ace.

Dura-Ace 9000 RD and Ultegra 6800 RD. Both are short cage versions.

Similar construction, with an aluminium outer link and inner link.

Carbon pulley cage on the Dura-Ace RD for weight savings, as compared to aluminium cage on the Ultegra RD.

Full hollow titanium B Axle on the Dura-Ace RD, as compared to the Ultegra RD which only has a small hole on the stainless steel B axle.

Both the pulleys on the Dura-Ace RD uses sealed bearings, while the Ultegra RD uses bushing for the upper pulley, and sealed bearing for the lower pulley.

197 grams for the Ultegra 6800 Short Cage RD, which is a nice low weight

The Dura-Ace 9000 RD goes one step further and is even more lightweight, at only 160 grams for the short cage version!

Moving on to the Front Derailleur, let's compare the Dura-Ace 9000 FD with the Ultegra 6800 FD. In this case, I am comparing the braze on version of the Dura-Ace FD with the clamp band version of the Ultegra FD, so the weight comparison will not be accurate.

Dura-Ace 9000 FD on the left, Ultegra 6800 FD on the right. Similar construction.

The surface finishing on the Dura-Ace FD is smoother than on the Ultegra FD. Both have the plastic skid plate on the inside of the chain guide.

Similar rear view. Dura-Ace FD on the left has an aluminium chain guide for weight savings.

Different cable fixing bolt design. Dura-Ace FD on the left has a special notched spacer to clip onto the two cable fixing positions, while the Ultegra FD uses a standard round spacer under the cable fixing bolt.

Dura-Ace FD on the top, with a screw linking the outside and inside of the chain guide. This screw is to allow the FD chain guide to be opened up, which will allow the chain to be removed or installed on the bike without breaking the chain to pass through the FD.

Clamp band type of Ultegra 6800 FD, weighs 105 grams.

To get a more accurate weight comparison of the Dura-Ace 9000 FD, this clamp band adapter should be fixed to the Dura-Ace braze on FD. This adapter weighs about 20 grams.

Weight of Dura-Ace 9000 braze on FD + clamp band adapter is 85 grams, still lighter than the Ultegra FD

My conclusion is that the main differences between Dura-Ace and Ultegra RD and FD are the weight and surface finishing. Dura-Ace components are more lightweight and also look better with top grade anodizing. However, Ultegra components cost only half of Dura-Ace, and yet has almost the same performance as Dura-Ace. The sensible and logical choice is Ultegra, but if you can afford it, go ahead and get Dura-Ace if that is what makes you happy.

Next up, the crankset of Dura-Ace 9000 and Ultegra 6800 will be compared.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Merida Scultura 5000: Frameset Weight

After completing the latest upgrade on the Merida Scultura 5000 road bike, I have changed almost all the components on the bike. Only a few components have not been changed, such as the Ultegra 6800 road shifters, the stock Merida stem and seatpost and also the bar tape. Even so, I have also weighed those parts, and now I have a complete list of the components with their individual weights.

With that info in hand, I can then calculate the weight of the Merida Scultura frameset, by deducting the total component weight from the full bike weight.

View of the upgraded Merida Scultura 5000!

Mostly Dura-Ace 9000 components on the bike

As shown below, the weight of each of the components have been listed down.

Full component list and the weight of each of them

The full bike weighs 7.6 kg (7.2 kg without the pedals), which is a really nice weight for a road bike. It is not a super light bike that is less than the UCI standard 6.8 kg, but is definitely not a heavy road bike that is more than 9 kg.

After deducting the weight of all the components from the full bike weight, the remaining weight is around 1635 grams. This weight is inclusive of the frame, front fork, seatpost clamp, RD hanger, headset cups and bearings, stem spacers and lastly the stem top cap. To get the pure weight of the frameset alone, some estimation is required here. This amount will be deducted from the calculated value above to get the pure frameset weight.

Seatpost Clamp + RD Hanger: Around 50 grams
Headset Cups + Bearings: Around 70 grams
Stem Spacers + Stem Top Cap: Around 50 grams

This gives a frameset weight (frame + fork) of around 1465 grams, which is a decent weight for a mid range carbon frame. High end super lightweight carbon framesets can weigh less than 1000 grams, but they cost a lot more than this. If I estimate the front fork weight to be around 450 grams, this gives a frame-only weight of about 1000 grams.

All these are estimations, with some assumptions made along the way. They may not be very accurate, but it gives a rough estimate of the frameset weight and how it compares with other road frames.

From what I see, the only areas where there can be further significant weight reductions (>50 grams) would be the shifters, wheelset, QR axles, tires & tubes, cassette and pedals. The other components are pretty much as lightweight as possible, without sacrificing function.

Change to Dura-Ace ST-9001 Road Shifters: Save 60 grams
Change to lightweight tubular wheelset with titanium QR Axles: Save 500 grams
Change to tubular tires (no inner tubes): Save 200 grams
Change to Dura-Ace 9000 cassette: Save 50 grams
Change to lightweight pedals: Save 140 grams

If all these changes are implemented, there is further potential for weight savings, reducing another 950 grams, and cutting the full bike weight down to around 6.7 kg with pedals, or 6.5 kg without pedals. This would make it a really lightweight bike, but also very expensive.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Merida Scultura 5000: Dura-Ace 9000 Crankset and Brake Calipers

After upgrading the rear derailleur and front derailleur on the Merida Scultura 5000 from Ultegra 6800 to Dura-Ace 9000, the next components that I want to upgrade would be the crankset and the brake calipers. Once again, I would like to emphasize that the Ultegra components are working perfectly fine, and the only reason that I changed to Dura-Ace components is to find out if there is a difference in terms of performance. There will definitely be some weight savings, but that is not the key purpose here.

On a full sized road bike with 700C wheels, most riders would be well suited to a compact 50/34T crankset, as it gives a gear range that is suitable for most road bike rides. Only the strongest riders such as the super-enthusiasts or professionals need the higher gearing of a standard 53/39T crankset. Most people will never max out the 50T front/11T rear gear combination on a 700C road bike, except on downslopes.

As such, a suitable gearing for the new Dura-Ace 9000 crankset would be the 50/34T compact crankset, which replaces the Ultegra 6800 50/34T compact crankset. Same gearing, just with a different design, weight and probably similar performance.

Dura-Ace 9000 crankset for 11 speed drivetrains, 50/34T compact chainrings

Silver and black anodised Hollowglide chainrings. Surprisingly few shifting ramps and pins.

Inner chainring is also marked, and it even has a machined groove under the gear teeth for maximum weight savings.

Smart looking silver/black appearance on this 4 arm crankset! This design is such that you will either love it or hate it.

Complete Dura-Ace 9000 crankset weighs only 615 grams, which is really lightweight for an aluminium crankset that is stiff and shifts well.

For comparison, the Ultegra 6800 crankset is about 60 grams heavier, at 677 grams. Still considered pretty lightweight, and has a good weight to price ratio.

Using a torque wrench on the crank arm clamp bolts to ensure a proper tightening torque, so that the crank arms don't drop off while riding.

The PD-A530 pedals don't really match the crankset, but they are so versatile and are in use on many of my other bikes, such as the Wheelsport Fantasy mini velo, Avanti Inc 3 and Dahon MuEX.

Looking good with the Dura-Ace 9000 Front Derailleur as installed previously

Almost a full Dura-Ace 9000 drivetrain, with the exception of the Ultegra 6800 cassette.

After upgrading the crankset from Ultegra to Dura-Ace, the next component to upgrade would be the brake calipers. Let's see if there is any difference compared to Ultegra brake calipers.

Dura-Ace 9000 Brake Calipers. Supposedly the most powerful road brake calipers available.

Nice shiny hardware, polished and anodised. Magnesium brake pad holders.

Torx bolt heads, and I think they are made of titanium. The cable fixing bolt shown at the bottom is also made of titanium.

Spring tension adjustment bolt and centering adjustment bolt

A pair weighs 298 grams. Not the lightest available, but the additional power should be worth the extra weight.

Ultegra 6800 brake calipers, weighing more at 341 grams for the pair

Rear brake calipers installed!

Good clearance between the rear brake calipers and the Schwalbe One 25C tires

Front brake calipers installed

A bit lesser clearance as compared to the rear. Probably cannot use wider tires without causing interference.  

Merida Scultura 5000 upgraded with Dura-Ace/Ultegra components!

Looking good with high end components

Previously, when the RD and FD were upgraded from Ultegra to Dura-Ace, 50 grams were saved. This time, changing the crankset and brake calipers from Ultegra to Dura-Ace saved another 100 grams, giving a total weight saving of 150 grams.

Is it worth paying twice the price of Ultegra to get Dura-Ace components? Common sense says no, as the performance of Ultegra is almost the same as Dura-Ace, but at half the price. The weight savings are not that much for individual components, but they do add up, and you can save about 300 grams when upgrading a full Ultegra groupset to a full Dura-Ace groupset.

That is another reason why Ultegra components are so popular, as they offer great value and performance at a reasonable price. I have used both Ultegra components and now Dura-Ace components on the same bike, and so I can tell whether there is any noticeable difference between the two groupsets. The answer is, the functional and performance differences between Dura-Ace and Ultegra is so small that unless you are a pro rider or deal with road bikes everyday, you will not be able to tell the difference.

Finally, the full bike weight (without accessories such as lights, bottle cages, etc) is now 7.2 kg without pedals, and 7.6 kg inclusive of the PD-A530 pedals. This is a pretty good weight, but not featherlight. Looking back at the stock weight of this road bike, which was 8.2 kg (without pedals), it takes quite a lot of effort to remove 1 kg from the bike!

In my next blog post, I will estimate the frameset weight of the Merida Scultura 5000, using the full bike weight and deducting the weight of every single component on the bike. Since I have upgraded practically all the components on this Merida road bike, I know the weight of each component in detail.

To be continued here!